When I was a child, we had risotto every week, and it's still one of my favorite things to make for family meals. It's one of those dishes that can be either simple—made with only a few ingredients right out of the pantry—or a feast unto itself. Vegetables, mushrooms, seafood, meat...everything's good in risotto. You can create a dish with a new personality each time, all using the same basic technique. This tool makes it easy: you just select the broth, add-ins, and finishing touches you want to use, and the instructions are generated automatically.
The key to perfectly cooked risotto is in drawing out the starches stored in the rice kernels a bit at a time, while the kernels cook and slowly absorb liquid and flavor. A few simple steps during cooking will allow you to achieve the right balance of starch release and flavor absorption:
Use Italian short-grain rice varieties such as Arborio or Carnaroli. They're shorter and plumper than long-grain rice and have considerably more starch. The starch is released during cooking, creating the distinctively soft, creamy texture of great risotto, while the kernels remain firm to the bite.
Toast the rice by stirring it in with the sweated aromatics to coat it well with oil. This forms a capsule around the kernels that prevents too much liquid from being absorbed too fast.
Add hot liquid incrementally to slowly draw starch from the rice. As a general rule, you should prepare about three and a half times as much liquid as rice. You might not need all of it, depending on the pan and the intensity of the heat. Risotto can be tight and dense or soft and runny (all'onda, in Italian), depending on your personal taste. For a looser texture, just add more broth toward the end without letting it completely evaporate.
Stir frequently. Risotto needs to be stirred often to prevent the released starches from scorching and to blend these starches with the fat and the flavoring ingredients. You can, however, take a short break after each addition of the liquid.
Photos: Scott Phillips